Martin Johnstone reflects on his recent trip to Rome for the Global Meeting of Popular Movements
The Church of Scotland and Faith in Community Scotland have recently made submissions to the Smith Commission. The Smith Commission has been given the task of getting agreement on the specifics of the new powers that will come to Scotland following September’s Independence Referendum. At the heart of both submissions lies a plea: “Let’s make our democracy better, stronger and much more engaging.”
At the Global Meeting of Popular Movements, Pope Francis committed the Catholic Church to walk alongside the poor in their struggle for justice. He also stated clearly what I certainly know to be true: those who struggle against poverty have clear insights into how it can be effectively addressed. And over these last days, I heard that on a global scale:
- In the wisdom of waste pickets who talked about the contribution that they are making to recycling and care for the planet;
- In the experience of slum dwellers about how to make our homes and lifestyles much more sustainable and community-focused;
- In the experience of rural farmers warning about the dangers of genetically modified crops which are designed to feed profits rather than stomachs.
We also heard from Evo Morales, President of Bolivia. President Morales would not be on the Christmas card list of too many western leaders but his government – now in its 9th year – was re-elected with 60% of the popular vote. What I found most inspiring about his speech was that he spoke about how he had needed to change his views (and his government’s policy) in the light of insights from those who are amongst the very poorest in his country. He seemed to talk about a genuinely participative democracy at work – and one where real change and progress was happening.
As the Smith Commission deliberates on future powers for Scotland, my heartfelt plea, emboldened by what I have heard over these last days, is that we have the courage to trust the people. Democracy is too important to be left to politicians!